Amber Burch seemed a little different, a friend says, when she visited her childhood hometown of Rock Hill, S.C., just four days before she was charged with murdering one man and helping to bury a second murder victim in the back yard of her home in Clemmons.
Burch was acting on edge, her friend said. Burch told a story about how the law had shown up at the house she and Pazuzu Algarad shared on Knob Hill Drive in Clemmons. The officers said someone had reported Algarad as a terrorist.
Burch was laughing about the encounter, and told her friend how Algarad answered the door and responded with a laugh and a denial when he learned why the officers were there.
It was Burch and her old friend just hanging out in Rock Hill on Wednesday night, Oct. 1.
“She had changed a lot,” the friend said. “She was a little more edgy-acting and stuff. I thought she was a really nice person so I had no reason not to be her friend or anything. She came over. We caught up and had a couple beers and hung out at the house.”
Days later, Burch’s Rock Hill friend was checking out Facebook and learned about the murder arrests.
“I immediately recognized him,” the friend said. “I was shocked. I walked outside. I said ‘Oh my God.’ It seems so crazy to me having known someone so long.”
The friend remembered apologizing to Burch for the mess – she hadn’t washed the dishes – as she read the media accounts of authorities finding animal feces scattered around in the house where Burch and Algarad were living.
The Journal spoke extensively with Burch’s friend Friday. Her name is not being published because she is concerned about her safety. Another person did corroborate the long-time friendship with Burch.
Obvious changes after she moved
Burch had left Rock Hill sometime after graduating from Rock Hill High School in 2008. She moved to Winston-Salem, and somehow became involved with Algarad. Burch’s friend said she maybe saw Burch about three times after Burch left Rock Hill.
Burch went through big changes, the friend said.
Burch had a couple tattoos, but then she started getting “homemade” ones, one of them a swastika. One day Burch showed up with sharpened teeth: Burch had used a fingernail file to sharpen the edges of her teeth – similar to the way Algarad had done, but not as severe. Somewhere along the way, Burch shaved off her eyebrows.
In their old days in Rock Hill, the friend said, Burch had had a couple boyfriends, but “nothing super serious.” Burch liked horses and played bass in the string orchestra.
“As far as I know, Pazuzu was her only serious boyfriend,” the friend said. “I never met him. She invited me to go up there several times. On the phone, I could hear him in the background and he was pretty vulgar.”
On one call, she heard Algarad arguing with Burch and then asking who she was talking with on the phone. When Burch told him that it was her Rock Hill friend, Algarad could be heard telling Burch to invite her up so he could have sex with her. Only, those aren’t the words he used to describe it.
Burch invited her friend to visit several times, but the friend didn’t want to go because of the way Algarad acted.
“He never would come to Rock Hill when she came to Rock Hill,” the friend said. “After seeing her talk to him I could tell she was starting to change.”
Burch’s friend knew that Algarad claimed to be Iraqi and that he was teaching Burch some Arabic.
“She would tell me random Arabic words,” the Rock Hill friend said. “I was making a sandwich and she told me the Arabic word for garlic. One of their dogs has an Arabic name. She told me he was Iraqi, and I had no reason to believe he wasn’t.”
Algarad was born as John Alexander Lawson in San Francisco, but legally changed his name in 2002. His first name is the name of an Assyro-Babylonian demon, and was used as the name of the demon in the movie “The Exorcist.” The name Algarad is similar to the Arabic word for “locust.”
Police have not identified the bodies found in Algarad’s back yard last Sunday. Algarad and Burch are each charged with one count of first-degree murder and one count of accessory after the fact of first-degree murder. Each is accused of murdering one victim and helping to bury the body of the other.
A third person, Krystal Nicole Matlock, is charged with accessory after the fact of first-degree murder.
In 2010, Algarad was charged with accessory after the fact of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Joseph E. Chandler, whose body was found in a park near the Yadkin River. He was convicted in 2012 and was on probation when the more recent charges were made.
Authorities have not mentioned any suspicion of terror-related activities in the crimes, and could not be reached Friday night to comment on the claim that Algarad was questioned on terrorism.
‘She went off the deep end’
Burch’s Rock Hill friend said she and Burch went to Bible study together when both were in high school. She knew that Burch’s beliefs had changed, under Algarad’s influence, but thought it was just something like Wicca, a sort of modern paganism.
“She fell into his lifestyle and fell into his identity,” Burch’s friend said. The friend said Burch told her that Algarad “would shoot coke and heroin,” but that Burch wasn’t taking any drugs.
Burch became pregnant with Algarad’s child in 2010, but that ended in a miscarriage. The friend said Burch told her that she lost the baby because of stress.
Algarad told psychiatrists in 2010 that he practiced a “Sumerian” religion that required the monthly sacrifice of a small animal. His Facebook page bears a banner with the word Antichrist stretching across the page and other references to Satanic belief.
Burch’s friend said she wasn’t aware of all that at first.
“She is not legally married,” the friend said. “I thought the religion they practiced was Wicca – that is what she told me. She would talk about praises to the goddess. I assumed it was Wicca. One time when I asked her what time she would come over she said she would come around 8:30, because the sun set at 8 and she had to do her praises – to thank the goddess or spiritual being of some sort. She talked about the protection of the goddess.”
About a year ago, the friend said, Burch showed up at Rock Hill and said she was leaving Algarad.
“I really didn’t encourage her one way or the other,” the friend said. “I never really thought he was an outstanding guy.”
Burch changed her mind about leaving Algarad and didn’t mention it last week, the friend said.
A second Rock Hill friend of Burch’s, Kaylene Pagel, said she and Burch were “like sisters for years.” But when Burch moved to Winston-Salem, Pagel said, she began distancing herself from her old friends.
“She was a sweet, smart, caring girl,” Pagel said. “She was in the string orchestra in high school. I went to a few of her concerts and she played so beautifully. She was always that one friend who would help you no matter what.”
Once, Pagel woke up in the middle of the night with a lot of pain.
“She picked me up in the middle of the night and took me to the emergency room and got me taken care of,” Pagel said.
Burch’s whole family was into horses, Pagel said.
“She would take me over to the stables and we would go riding and things like that,” Pagel said. “We would go to the mall. Go to the bowling alley – normal 18- and 19-year-old activities.”
When Pagel’s daughter died in February 2009, Burch attended the funeral, Pagel said. By then, Burch was already with Algarad.
“We all knew she went off the deep end when she went to Winston-Salem,” Pagel said. “When she made her Facebook page, we saw this person with sharpened teeth. Muslim attire. When I saw the page I thought, what was she thinking? He is not attractive. Where did he come from? You could tell he wasn’t Islamic. Who is this person and how did he meet Amber? I don’t think anyone knows.”